The Summer Cabin Era

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 9/1990

In June I detailed how Mountain history evolved from pre-history, through the Pioneer Era – starting about 1852 and ending about 1910 – and then through a Summer Cabin Era until about 1950, and since then what is essentially year-around residential usage in the Modern Era. Most of my Echo columns in recent years have been about the Pioneer Era. There is a good reason for this. It is the most romantic, but more importantly, in terms of history, a lot more is actually known and recorded about the Pioneer Era than there is about the Summer Cabin Era. In the Pioneer Era big land blocks were bought and sold, lumber transactions were recorded, schools and hotels were built – all recordable events – and lots of people were up here so some of them detailed what was going on all around them in records, letters, photos, and what-not. But in the Summer Cabin Era most all-year residents were hermit-like and hermits don’t make much history. Ditto for summer vacationers. Subdivision and land sales were the big thing. In June I detailed the Bromfield family’s role as the Mountain’s main subdividers. But they were not the first. First came Redwood Park, embracing what is now the area around County and Ridge roads. From a single 140 acre parcel, thousands of lots too tiny to build on – some as small as 10′ X 20′ – were sold, mostly to out-of-staters, most of whom never saw the lots. Soon folks started buying multiple adjacent lots and building summer cabins.

Further south in 1912, with his lumber mill the last on the Mountain, and it fading toward its death, Alvin Hatch subdivided part of his land as Purisima Heights Park. It ran along today’s Sweat Road, and didn’t really sell very well at first. In 1928 it was re-named Kings Mountain Park. Joined by brother-in-law, J.C. McGovern, for decades they sold pieces of the southeast corner of their former timberlands. Between the Bromfields, Redwood Park, and Hatch, most of the parcels created to date were carved off from the former large land holdings. The thing that got the Summer Cabin Era really rolling was the building of Skyline in 1924 (see my 1/90 Echo Column).

With the summer cabineers came bars. And amazingly, the bars were helped along by prohibition. The Mountain was an ideally safe place for a speakeasy to operate. In a world void of building permits, where rumrunning was common on the nearby coast, and where illegal liquor was rumored to be stored in these hills, and where it took a long time for police to get to the Mountain top, Kings Mountain was ideally located to house small, safe speakeasies. “Lookouts” sat at houses at the base of each of the four roads climbing the Mountain, and if the cops went by a “phone chain,” allowed plenty of scrambling time before they could arrive. There are no record of speakeasies here – no arrests – only rumor and supposition (although the “Mountain House” at the Mountains north base was shut down as a speakeasy). No one advertised, “Speakeasy – grand opening, Sept. 19th.” Instead, it is commonly believed the bars evolved from previously built summer cabins so they wouldn’t arouse suspicion.

The picture on the previous page, for example, is a rare 1921 picture of the summer cabin that became the Bella Vista. It is the part that is now the entry area. The tree in the forefront is still there and the window is in the same place today. Compare it to the next shot which is the Bella Vista in the 1930s after Prohibition was repealed. The conversion was done by Mildred and Louis Boggio who officially “started” the Bella Vista. Note the sleeper cabin to the right in this 1930s shot. Sleeper cabins were necessary for sleepy drunks, but also for prostitutes, and romantic interluders. One local bar owner reported that their sleeper cabin was often rented out two, three and even four times in a day.

Many of you recall “Kelley’s” later known as “Uncle Jon’s.” It burned down about 1976, at what is now the Koeker home at 13878 Skyline, just north of the Fire House, west of Skyline. Fewer will recall it when E. H. “Ned” and Leila Cowles ran it as the “Sierra Morena” – shown here in 1948. Note its phone # – Woodside 488.

Another Summer Cabin Era bar which was still running when I first got here in the 1960s was Brock’s. It burned down about 1969 and was on the west intersection of Skyline and Kings Mountain Road, facing east, with a view west. It was built in 1941, also by Lou Boggio, replacing an inn which only existed a few years before burning. Sadly, that prior inn’s construction caused the demolition in 1935 of Frank and Honora King’s much larger two story “The Mountain Brow House.” Here it is, facing to the south. By the 20th Century it was merely their family home.

This shot, about 1930, shows their son, Walter S. “Doc” King in his 50s. No, he was a gardener at Sequoia High School.

Remember! Slide show and lecture on Mountain history, Sunday, October 21st at 2:00 P.M. at the Firehouse.